Beginners Guide To Micronutrients

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We know the main ones, like to drop them into sentences when we’re talking about nutrition, but who actually knows more than 2 or 3 and which ones are most important?

In this post we take a detailed look at the three main categories of micronutrients, examples of them and how much you should be getting on a daily basis.

Micronutrients: A Bit of Background

When we talk nutrition, we all generally know the basic macros i.e fats, proteins, carbs.

Micronutrients are the other little things that our body can’t do without.

Like the British sailors discovered centuries ago, a good example is vitamin C. Stuck on their ships they didn’t have any oranges and scurvy was discovered! 

You get your micros from a well balanced diet, but even today in many low-income countries, people frequently suffer from a variety of nutrient-deficient diseases.

There are around 30 vitamins and minerals that your body cannot manufacture enough of and so we call these essential micronutrients.

It’s broken down into the 3 main categories:

  • Essential vitamins
  • Macro-minerals
  • Trace-minerals
macro vs micronutrients

What Are Examples of Micronutrients?

So what is a micronutrient example?

Should you be adding them to your after-climbing meal or should they stay in your main meals of the day?

As we mentioned above there’s the good old vitamin C. Another classic is calcium: get ‘dem bones nice and strong.

On the less well known spectrum of this we got manganese. That’s right, not magnesium. Manganese plays a role in forming bones, connective tissue and sex hormones.

So, let’s have a look a these in more detail, starting with essential vitamins.

Essential Vitamins

You literally cannot survive without these. Our body can make small amounts of some and others not at all, such as vitamin C, so they have to come from food.

There are 13 of these little buggers and all of them are required for the body to work properly, in different amounts.

They are:

Essential Vitamins: Function

So what do all these essential vitamin micronutrients do? I hear you scream.

  • Vitamin A: You want healthy teeth, bones, soft tissues and skin? This one helps form and maintain that.
  • Vitamin C: Without this one our wounds wouldn’t heal. I thought that was worth mentioning. Otherwise, also called ascorbic acid for you chemists, this antioxidant promotes healthy teeth and gums. It also helps the body absorb iron and maintain healthy tissue. 
  • Vitamin D: Hello little miss sunshine. This one helps the body absorb calcium which is needed for the normal development and maintenance of healthy teeth and bones. It also helps maintain correct blood levels of calcium and phosphorus.
  • Vitamin E. Another antioxidant. Also goes under the name tocopherol. It helps the body use vitamin K and form red blood cells. Go go vitamin E!
  • Vitamin K: Blood coagulating is quite important for wounds to heal. We don’t want to bleed out from a tiny paper cut now do we. Special K does that.
  • Vitamin B1. aka Thiamine. We all love carbs but those have to get converted into energy with the help of thiamine. It’s also essential for heart function and healthy nerve cells.
  • Vitamin B2. aka Riboflavin, works with his crew, the other B vitamins. It is important for body growth and the production of red blood cells.
  • Vitamin B3. aka Niacin. Another one that makes sure we got glowing skin and firing nerves!
  • Vitamin B6. This one helps create ‘dem red blood cells and maintain brain function.
  • Vitamin B12. Like many other of his vitamin B buddies, B12 contributes to metabolism. It’s another that takes part in the formation of red blood cells and maintain the central nervous system.
  • Pantothenic acid (B5). aka vitamin B5, is indispensable for breaking down food and getting all the good stuff from it! It’s also important for hormone production and cholesterol. The teenagers will thank me later.
  • Biotin (B7). Another one used in the production of hormones, also cholesterol. It’s essential for the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates on top of that.
  • Folate. So many of these help form red blood cells and this is another. It makes you think blood is important! It’s also needed for the production of DNA, so you could say it’s important.

Essential Vitamins: Source

Where can we find these little wonders?

  • Vitamin A. This can be found in two forms. One in animal liver, whole milk, and some fortified foods. The other are carotenoid micronutrients which are plant pigments that the body converts into vitamin A. Think sweet potatoes or carrots which have more than 100% of the recommended daily needs. Otherwise, bell peppers, broccoli and leafy greens (Spinach, kale, Swiss chard and dandelions. Yes, you can eat dandelions!)
  • Vitamin C. Literally, just eat any plant and you’ll get a decent amount of vitamin C.  For high levels, eat berries, citrus fruits and our favourite greens: broccoli, green peppers, collards, Swiss chard, dandelion greens, kale, or spinach (even Brussels sprouts, do I dare mention them).
  • Vitamin D. Ten to 15 minutes of sunshine 3 times a week is enough to produce the body’s requirement of vitamin D. Unfortunately it’s very hard to get enough of this micronutrient from food sources alone.
  • Vitamin E. Big E is found in fat-rich foods, with the highest concentrations in cold-pressed plant oils, nuts, seeds and avocados. Dark leafy greens, legumes and whole grains also contain this indispensable micronutrient.
  • Vitamin K. Special K is highly concentrated in leafy greens like kale, collard greens and spinach.  Your classics, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, liver, egg yolks and oatmeal also contain some.
  • Vitamin B1. Get some whole grains down you, otherwise beef steak, pork, tuna, trout, eggs, legumes or nuts and seeds.
  • Vitamin B2. Milk, cheese, yogurt, egg yolks, liver, meat, poultry, fish, legumes, whole grains and spinach have high levels of B2. Yet again our favourite greens contain them: broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, watercress and other green leafy vegetables, as well as mushrooms and nuts.
  • Vitamin B3. Some of the best food sources for naturally occurring niacin are beets, beef liver and fish. It’s also in broccoli, carrots, dates, pork, potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, wheat germ and whole wheat bread.  Poultry, red meat, eggs and dairy are also great.
  • Vitamin B6. B6 is in pretty much all foods, so it’s difficult to go wrong. It’s most abundant in meats, eggs, fish, carrots, spinach, sunflower seeds, peas, wheat germ and walnuts. Again, whole grains, avocados, broccoli, beans, bananas, cabbage and cantaloupe.
  • Vitamin B12. Foods that contain the most B12 micronutrients include meat, kidney, liver, herring, mackerel, seafood, chicken eggs, milk and other dairy products. For the vegetarians amongst us soy products are a good source, as are sea veggies like kombu, kelp, nori and dulse.
  • Pantothenic acid (B5). Of all the micronutrients, this one is literally in all plants and animals. As long as you’re not eating 100% processed foods 24/7 (and even then), you’ll be ok.
  • Biotin (B7). For the highest levels of this one aim for cooked egg yolks, milk, poultry, meat and saltwater fish. Whole grains and soybeans also have a good amount. Those chocolate fans will be happy to know it also contains some.
  • Folate (folic acid or B9). Again we see the usual culprits amongst the great sources of micronutrients: Asparagus, beef, chicken, cheese, barley, brown rice, leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, oranges, fruits, dried beans, split peas, and sprinkle a few nuts on top.

Essential Vitamins: RDI's

  • Vitamin A. Men: 900 mcg per day. Women: 700 mcg/day
  • Vitamin C. Men: 90 mg/day. Women: 75 mg/day
  • Vitamin D. Men and women: 600 IU (15 mcg)/day.
  • Vitamin E. Men and women: 15 mg/day
  • Vitamin K. Men: 120 mcg/day. Women: 90 mcg/day
  • Vitamin B1. Men: 1.2 mg/day. Women:  1.1 mg/day
  • Vitamin B2. Men: 1.3 mg/day. Women: 1.1 mg/day
  • Vitamin B3. Men: 16 mg/day. Women: 14 mg/day
  • Vitamin B6. Men and women: 1.3 mg
  • Vitamin B12. Men and women: 2.4 mcg
  • Pantothenic acid. Men and women: 5 mg/day
  • Biotin (B7). Men and women: 30 mcg/day
  • Folate (folic acid or B9). Men and women: 400 mcg/day

Moving on to the next micronutrients: macro-minerals… 


micronutrients macrominerals

The body requires a number of minerals in order to maintain its proper functioning.

These are to vitamins what Bonnie is to Clyde. What Aretha is to Franklin.

These guys are used for a variety of important processes such as:

  1. Building blood
  2. Those things they call bones
  3. Hormones
  4. Regulating heartbeat and much, much more.

We got two types of minerals:

  • Macrominerals. These are needed in large amounts.
  • Trace minerals. These are needed in very small amounts.

The macrominerals are:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Sulfur

Let’s discover what these macromineral micronutrients actually do.

Macrominerals: Function

  • Calcium.  Bones, teeth, nails. This is the most abundant mineral in our body. Don’t get enough and you’ll end up like Mr Glass.
  • Phosphorus. Big Phoz is a player in your DNA and RNA. Meaning he plays a role in pretty much defining your genetic code! It also forms a part of bones in the form of the mineral hydroxyapatite.
  • Magnesium. This is widely used by the body for metabolic processes. It plays a role in energy production, synthesis of biomolecules, and as a structural component of cell membranes and chromosomes.
  • Sodium and chloride are critical life-sustaining minerals. It’s actually just salt said in a fancy tone! It helps maintain proper blood volume and blood pressure, contribute to correct nerve signalling, muscle contraction, fluid balance and the transferring of nutrients through cell membranes. Say no more!
  • Potassium. This guy is the counterpart to salt, helping maintain normal fluid levels inside our cells. Sodium maintains fluid levels outside the cells.
  • Sulfur. Sulfur is an important component of two amino acids that are used in most proteins of the body. It helps disinfect the blood and fights bacteria during healing as well.

Macrominerals: Source

Where can we find these macro-micronutrients?

  • Calcium. Milk, yogurt, dairy, whey protein supplements, cottage cheese and dark leafy greens.
  • Phosphorus. Phosphorus is present in most food sources so you shouldn’t really be missing any.
  • Magnesium.  Can be found in high concentrations in dairy products, meat, fish, and seafood.
  • Sodium. Sodium chloride is table salt. We more have the problem these days that we’re getting waaay to much. If you really don’t have enough just season your steak a little more.
  • Potassium. Bananas. Also spinach, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yogurt, meat, poultry, fish and nuts.
  • Sulfur. Being the third most abundant mineral in the body you may think it’s hard to get enough. Luckily you can find it in a hell of a lot of foods: Meats, poultry, fish, eggs, broccoli, nuts, seeds, grains, soy products and other legumes, garlic and onions.

Macrominerals: RDIs

What’s the recommended daily intake of macrominerals?

  • Calcium. 1000-1200 mg/day for adults.
  • Phosphorus. Adults: 700 mg/day.
  • Magnesium. Men: 400-420 mg/day, Women: 310-320 mg/day.
  • Sodium & Sodium chloride. Adults: 1.5g/day and the max is 2.3g/day. Most adults get too much. Easy on the salt!
  • Potassium. Adults: 4.7 grams/day.

Last but not least we have trace minerals.

Trace Minerals

The trace minerals are:

  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Cobalt
  • Fluoride

Trace Minerals: Function

  • Iron. Used in red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues plus is also a critical component of many metabolic proteins and enzymes.
  • Manganese. This guy does a lot of work in the body but doesn’t get much recognition, probably because everyone just assumes you misspelled magnesium. Manganese has roles in forming bones, connective tissue and sex hormones, and it helps with blood clotting. It’s also an essential component of one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants: superoxide dismutase. Sounds exciting!
  • Copper. Another metal. This one is a cofactor for certain enzymes involved in energy production, connective tissue formation, and iron metabolism.
  • Iodine. Yes, this is the same iodine that stings like a mother&@”‘*$ when applied to a wound. Other than that it’s indispensable for correct thyroid function.
  • Zinc. The jack-of-all trades in the nutrient world—more than a hundred enzymes need it so they can function properly. It supports our immune system and has a hand in synthesizing protein and DNA.
  • Cobalt is a central component of vitamin B12. The vast majority of our cobalt intake accompanies our intake of B12. It therefore function like B12 and is thought to aid in heart health and iron and vitamin C absorption.
  • Fluoride. Remember how solid your teeth and bones are? Fluoride hardens the tooth enamel and stabilises minerals in bones.
  • Selenium functions in the body in the form of selenoproteins and is a powerful antioxidant.  It’s also necessary for reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis and immune function. What more can I say!?

Trace Minerals: Source

  • Iron. Iron comes in two forms. One in plants and actually both types are found in animal sources. Beef and chicken liver, clams, mussels, oysters and lean meats are one great source. Spinach, white beans are great sources along with nuts, vegetables and grains.
  • Manganese. The richest sources of manganese include nuts, seeds, legumes, wheat germ, grains and pineapple.
  • Copper. Have a few oysters or shellfish and you’re all good. Potatoes, beans, nuts, liver, kidneys, dark leafy greens, pepper and yeast are all excellent sources, too.
  • Iodine.  This can be found naturally in seafood, dairy products, grains, eggs, and poultry. Table salt is often iodized to increase availability.
  • Zinc. Big Z has to be consumed zinc everyday as our body can’t store it. Fresh delivery please! zinc potent foods are beef, poultry and again oysters. Otherwise peas, nuts, beans, oatmeal and dairy products.
  • Cobalt. One food source we haven’t mentioned yet: herring and mackerel are high in cobalt. These aren’t for everyone thought. Otherwise dairy products, seafood and leafy greens though the cobalt content depends largely on the soil.
  • Fluoride. In most developed countries the drinking water is fluoridated so you may be getting some from there. Otherwise it’s slightly harder to come by than some of the others. Black tea is a great source, canned shellfish, oatmeal, raisins and potatoes.
  • Selenium. Tasty brazil nuts nock it out the park here. Otherwise tuna, oysters, pork, beef, chicken, whole wheat bread, and milky milk 🥛

Trace Minerals: RDI's

Per day:

  • Iron.  Men: 8 mg, Women: 18 mg, and for pregnant women 27 mg.
  • Manganese. Men: 3 mg, Women: 1.8 mg.
  • Copper. Adults: 800 micrograms
  • Iodine. Adults: 150 micrograms.
  • Zinc. Me: 11 mg, Women: 8 mg.
  • Cobalt. The daily recommended amount of cobalt is slightly unclear. It is generally recommended that if you have enough vitamin B12 then you will have enough cobalt.
  • Fluoride. The exact amount is also actually unclear, though as a guideline in areas with fluoridated drinking water 1.4 to 3.4 mg is a range. In areas without fluoridated water, it is 0.3 to 1 mg per day.
  • Selenium: 55 micrograms.

What Micronutrients Are Most important?

Many micronutrients are absolutely indispensable to pretty much stay alive.

6 of the most important micronutrients are:

  1. Iodine
  2. Vitamin A
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Zinc
  5. Folate
  6. Iron

But which are the ones with well known deficiencies around the world?

Deficiencies in:

  • Iron
  • Vitamin A
  • Iodine

are the super common, particularly in children and pregnant women. Low and middle income countries are often most impacted by this, given that having a well balanced diet is often more expensive.

Foods With High Micronutrients

All of the nutrients you need are in different types of foods. Most experts agree that eating a variety of foods is the best way to get them. These fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products all have some micronutrients:

  • Foods with trace minerals: Oysters, spinach, nuts such as cashews, legumes such as peanuts
  • Foods with water-soluble vitamins: Citrus fruits, bell peppers, whole grains, eggs, dark leafy greens, fish, and lean meats
  • Foods with fat-soluble vitamins: Leafy greens, soybeans, almonds, sweet potatoes, and milk
  • Foods with microminerals: Dairy products, black beans and lentils, bananas, and fish.

Many prepared foods, such as cereals and baked goods, are fortified with nutrients. You can check the nutrition label on the package to see what’s in the food you buy.  

How to Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Micronutrients?

Well, let’s start with the obvious: Eat more vegetables!

With the exception of vitamins C and D, all these vitamins and minerals can be found in significant amounts in leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, and nuts.

The key here is to eat not just a lot of vegetables, but a wide variety. Throw that net wide!

That's All Folks!

So there we have it!

The moral of the story? Eat ‘dem leafy greens and mix-up your veggies. Aim for diversity and you’ll be good to go.

We all know you need a balanced and healthy climbers diet, especially if you’re getting your pump on regularly.

Even small amounts of these bad boys can make a difference to your recovery so make veggies more central to each meal.

How do you make sure you’re getting all your micros?

Let us know below!

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